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USF should be excited about its future heading into the Boca Raton Bowl

Man standing in a suit talking at a podium
Sky Lebron
First-year USF coach Alex Golesh inherited a program that had gone 4-33 since late in the 2019 season and will either go 6-7 or 7-6 in his opening season with the Bulls.

The Bulls could finish with a winning record with a win against Syracuse.

Syracuse and South Florida are playing in the Boca Raton Bowl with a winning season at stake. That said, both programs are already looking past the 2023 season finale and with good reason.

The futures are bright, regardless of what happens Thursday.

Just getting here represents a huge win for USF in its first-year under coach Alex Golesh. He inherited a program that had gone 4-33 since late in the 2019 season and will either go 6-7 or 7-6 in his opening season with the Bulls — a turnaround that some might not have expected to come so quickly.

“It’s been five years since we played a bowl game, which is crazy in a lot of ways,” Golesh said. “To get here in Year 1 and continue to lay a foundation for what we’re building in Tampa is absolutely huge for us.”

Syracuse — with new coach Fran Brown making an immediate and massive impact on recruiting — has a group of newcomers arriving in Central New York headlined by Ohio State transfer quarterback Kyle McCord. And South Florida recently unveiled the first renderings of what will be its long-sought on-campus stadium with groundbreaking scheduled next year and a first game target of 2027.

So, yes, winning the Boca Bowl and finishing 7-6 will make one of these teams happy. There are much bigger things on the collective minds of both programs.

“We feel like our program is definitely trending in a great direction,” said Syracuse interim coach Nunzio Campanile, who took over for the fired Dino Babers and will continue to lead the Orange in the bowl game. “Hopefully this is a great opportunity for our guys to continue to get better, to compete in a great game against a great opponent.”

At a glance

RECORDS: Boca Raton Bowl: Syracuse (6-6, ACC) vs. South Florida (6-6, American)

DATE/TV: Dec. 21, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

LINE: Syracuse by 3, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: The winner gets to go into the offseason with a winning record — 7-6. Syracuse is seeking its first bowl win since 2018 and first time posting consecutive winning seasons since 2012 and 2013. South Florida hasn't won a bowl game since 2017 and hasn't finished with a winning record since 2018.

KEY MATCHUP: USF's passing defense against Syracuse's mystery passing game. This is an incredibly odd matchup. USF gave up 301.2 yards per game through the air this season — the most in the country. With primary starter Garrett Shrader hurt, Syracuse plans to start redshirt freshman Braden Davis. He went 1 for 1 passing in the regular season. Safe guess: expect more of the wildcat that Syracuse ran well this season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: South Florida: QB Byrum Brown. He threw for 23 touchdowns this season, with 11 of those scoring throws coming in the final four games. Syracuse: RB LeQuint Allen. Syracuse had four games in November; Allen rushed for more than 100 yards in all of them.

FACTS & FIGURES: The teams have some remarkable statistical similarities. Syracuse is rushing for 185 yards per game, USF for 184.7. South Florida netted 39.6 yards per punt, Syracuse netted 39.4. Both teams averaged 7.3 penalties per game, both offenses held the ball on average for 28 minutes per contest, and both turned it over exactly 20 times in the regular season. ... Expected high temperature in Boca Raton on Thursday: 75. Expected high temperature in Syracuse on Thursday: 30.

Bowl notes

BOWL TRENDS : At the Boca Bowl, expect lots of points — most of them from one side. The first nine editions of the game have seen only one decided by less than 15 points; that was last year when Toledo beat Liberty 21-19 in the lowest-scoring edition of the Boca Bowl. In the first eight Boca Bowls, the winning team scored an average of 47.8 points.

THE SERIES: South Florida has gone 8-2 against Syracuse all-time, and this game is a reunion of past Big East rivals. Syracuse’s two wins were close ones, 13-9 in 2010 and 37-36 in 2012. Take those away, and the average score of a Syracuse-South Florida game was USF 38, Orange 14. The teams haven’t met since 2016.

SCHEDULE HINTS: The Orange and the Bulls did not have any common opponents this season. Syracuse beat Army, which beat UTSA, which beat South Florida. The Bulls beat Rice, which beat Tulsa, which beat Northern Illinois, which beat Boston College, which beat Syracuse.

STAT TRENDS: When USF plays any defense, the Bulls have been tough to beat. They were 6-1 this season when holding opponents to 30 points or less; the one loss there was a 17-3 defeat to Southeastern Conference champion and College Football Playoff qualifier Alabama. When the Bulls allowed more than 30 points, they were 0-5. Syracuse had a magic number as well this season, geared toward the offensive side. When the Orange scored 22 or fewer points, they were 0-6. Score more than 22, they were 6-0.

NO SHRADER: Syracuse announced that quarterback Garrett Shrader had shoulder surgery after the regular season and won’t play in the bowl game. Shrader had been playing with the tear since October and wound up leading Syracuse to a bowl-clinching 35-31 win over Wake Forest to close the regular season.

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